Tips on living a healthy and full life

Chair exercises for seniors to strengthen muscles and increase mobility

Just as it’s important for any person to stay physically active for health, it’s vital to maintain a level of fitness as we age. Physical activity — including strength training and stretching exercises — has been shown to increase life expectancy, reduce the risk of disease, improve mood, and make performing daily activities much easier.

Not every older adult will have the ability or desire to enroll in a formal exercise program outside their home. And of course, during this COVID-19 pandemic, this is less likely to even be an option. But you don’t even have to leave home to get the exercise needed. That’s because many exercises can be performed with the help of a simple object that is already in our living space: A sturdy chair.

As a family caregiver, you can introduce a few simple chair exercises for seniors to add to their exercise routine. These easy-to-perform maneuvers offer many benefits, and you can even try them alongside — they’re good for you too.

The benefits of chair exercises for seniors

Seated exercise offers all sorts of great benefits. The best part is that it gives older adults a way to exercise without the risk involved with other types of exercise.

Because you will remain seated the whole time, there is  added stability that just isn’t there with other types of physical activity that require standing. This way, the risk of falls and other injuries is greatly reduced.

Some of the benefits of chair exercises include:

  • Better flexibility and range of motion
  • Increased blood circulation
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Better balance
  • Less joint stiffness and pain
  • Better concentration and elevated mood
  • Lower levels of stress and anxiety

Now that you can see how chair exercises for seniors can improve health and increase overall fitness, it’s time to take a look at some specific workouts they can try. Depending on their physical ability, they can choose which ones they like, and which ones they would prefer to avoid or maybe even work up to.

Examples of chair exercises for seniors

There is an almost endless list of possible exercises that one could perform in a seated position on a chair. Let’s focus on chair exercises that are purposely designed to help older adults improve or maintain strength, endurance, and flexibility. These chair exercises for seniors can work a variety of muscle groups, including the back, arms, legs, and core.

Wrist and ankle rolls

Wrist rolls and ankle rolls are great for improving circulation through the limbs, and for loosening up stiff joints. These quick and easy exercises also serve as a good warm-up before getting into more strenuous chair exercises.

1. Sit on a chair with your back straight, not leaning against the back of the chair.

2. Open and close your fists several times and flex your fingers. Then, roll your wrists in a clockwise motion 10 times, then in a counterclockwise motion 10 times.

3. Perform the same movements with your ankles.

Leg or knee lifts

Leg lifts, sometimes called knee lifts, strengthen the muscles through the lower legs and are good for increasing mobility and range of motion around the hips. This is important because of the higher risk of falls and hip fractures associated with aging.

1. While sitting up straight in the chair, plant your feet flat on the floor shoulder-width apart.

2. Lift your right foot, knee, and leg toward your chest, and lower it back to the floor. Repeat the exercise with your left leg.

3. Perform 10 reps per leg, either in alternating fashion or one leg at a time. To increase the difficulty, pause for a count of five seconds when your leg is at the top of its movement.

Arm raises

Arm raises, as the name suggests, strengthen the arm muscles. This is important for improving balance and performing many daily maneuvers such as lifting and standing. You’ll need a ball of some kind such as a soccer ball. A light dumbbell or weight would also work just fine.

1. Get into starting position by sitting up straight and holding the ball with both hands, with your palms facing inward toward each other.

2. Extend your arms so that the ball rests on your legs, near the knees. Your elbows should be slightly bent at this stage.

3. Slowly raise your arms and lift the ball to shoulder level before lowering it back down. Continue for 10 repetitions.

Tummy twists

Tummy twists, also called torso twists, are great for working the core muscles and glutes, and they also encourage good spinal mobility. It’s one of the best core exercises your mom or dad can do to give them a strong center of balance.

1. Sit tall in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Hold your arms at a 90-degree angle with the elbows down at your sides and the arms extended out in front of your body.

2. Keeping your lower body and hips still (try to imagine keeping your belly button facing forward at all times), rotate your upper body to the left. Return to the middle position before twisting to the right. Work through the full range of motion on each side to really engage the abdominal muscles and strengthen your core.

3. Perform 10 repetitions on each side for a total of 20 reps.

Sit-and-stands

For older adults, sitting and standing isn’t something that can always be taken for granted. Safely sitting and standing as part of an exercise routine is a great way to improve leg strength and maintain balance. This will help your parent immensely when getting into or out of chairs by themselves.

1. Sit with your back straight and your feet planted about as wide as your hips and shoulders.

2. Without using your hands and arms — unless you need to for balance — engage the core muscles and lower back muscles to push yourself to a standing position.

3. Now that you’re standing, press your hips back and bend the knees to carefully lower yourself back into the chair.

4. Repeat the entire process five times before taking a break.

Bicep curls

A sturdy chair and a set of low-impact resistance bands are all that’s needed to work out the biceps. Strong biceps are helpful for balance, and for gripping objects like armrests or handrails when sitting, standing, and walking.

1. In the seated position, place your feet shoulder-width apart over the resistance bands.

2. Gripping the bands’ handles with your palms facing upward, curl your hands up to your shoulder blades.

3. Keeping your elbows at your sides, lower the bands slowly. Repeat the motion for 10 reps.

For all of the above chair exercises and any exercise, keep this in mind: While it’s OK to get the heart rate up, you never want to push too hard. It’s all about finding that balance between a healthy exercise routine and not pushing beyond your physical limits.

If there is discomfort or  uncomfortable or pain while performing these exercises, don’t continue. If you aren’t sure whether or not you’re doing the maneuvers correctly, consult a personal trainer or healthcare professional.

Getting started with chair exercises for seniors

Senior couple walking together

Sitting, standing, getting out of bed, balancing, moving around the house — all of these tasks will be much easier for when good muscle strength and mobility is maintained. A gentle exercise routine is an important part of maintaining a good quality of life in older age.

Chair exercises for seniors can strengthen everything from the core muscles and the glutes to the lower and upper back, the legs, and the arms. And it can all be done with minimal risk because the chair provides stability.

Are there any particular chair exercises you like? We would love to hear what you have to say.

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  • Freda Jacyna
    Thu Oct 31 2019, 15:10
    This is an excellent article. I am 91 now and need this kind of stuff. Thankyou.
  • Fra
    Sat Nov 02 2019, 17:15
    It will be interesting to see the chair and a video on how it works to help the seniors thank you so much for sharing
  • Gill Lewis
    Sat Apr 18 2020, 18:53
    I am now nearly 82 years old. I dont consider myself yet ' old' I have many friends 20 years younger who are waiting to die but there so many things to do and discover and so little time left ( or so people tell me ) I am so frustrated. The ' young' i e 20 - 30s only want our hard earned money to fund their shallow enjoyments so are waiting for their ' inheritencences' which may never come ! I want to live and enjoy life for as long as possible!
  • Mary
    Sat May 16 2020, 18:15
    I'm 72.5 years young. I have always been proactive about my general health which is good. Considering that I'm 24 yrs cancer survivor. Age to me, is adjusting to what you can no longer do. Change the way you used to do it or start something else that gives joy. Embrace the changes and enjoy your senior years. We don't have time to waste.
  • Dee olson
    Sun Aug 09 2020, 20:03
    Older never old ,always a child of god
    • JaneVock
      Tue Aug 25 2020, 13:35
      Indeed!
  • ted
    Thu Sep 17 2020, 18:01
    Old fart is good for me.
    • JaneVock
      Tue Sep 29 2020, 11:34
      Way to appropriate the language Ted. I sometimes call myself 'an old bird'.
  • Irene robinson
    Sat Oct 24 2020, 00:17
    I love these. They are doable. Since I lost the cartlige in my knees I now do a lot of sitting. I can feel how this affects my body. Would you be able to email this info to me so I can print it please.
    • JaneVock
      Fri Nov 06 2020, 08:45
      I sent these to you in an email Irene. I am glad they are helpful!Take good care, Jane
  • Frances summers
    Sat Oct 24 2020, 14:18
    Was doing this at seniors centre now closed due to covid. Thanks for sending this to Facebook. Z
    • JaneVock
      Mon Oct 26 2020, 13:38
      You are most welcome!
  • Frances mcpherson
    Sat Jan 30 2021, 07:59
    I was wondering if there any good exercises for hips. I am going to have hip replacement surgery later this year. Wondering if any good exercises to do before surgery and after surgery. Thank you.
    • JaneVock
      Thu Jul 08 2021, 10:36
      Hi there Frances,A great question. I would check in with your surgeon about this, and consider asking for a referral to a physiotherapist. Good luck with your surgery!
  • Barb Lawrance
    Sat Jan 30 2021, 13:16
    Good job
  • Charlotte Orkin
    Sat Aug 14 2021, 15:40
    Thank you so much.You have helped clarify for me the value of chair excersize